BRIGHTENING YOUNG LIVES WITH THE BEAUTY OF ART

By Evany Rosen

Evany is currently in Grade 12 at Branksome Hall.

Susy Bleasby is a familiar sight in the halls and rooms of Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children. Armed with just a few brushes and a wealth of creativity, this talented artist has painted 11 murals for several of the hospital’s departments, featuring farm animals, underwater creatures and whimsical cartoons. Her creations have transformed the hospital’s otherwise sterile atmosphere into a soothing environment for both nervous children and their anxious parents. It’s a gift that the children particularly appreciate. “When the kids see my murals, they’re not in a hospital anymore, but in a moment of magic,” Ms Bleasby says. “I love what I do, and I’m very fortunate to have found a way to make a living from splashing paint around.”

After graduating from Branksome Hall, where she was “Grade Prefect” in her final year, Ms Bleasby entered Queen’s University. It wasn’t long before she realized that text-book studies were not for her, and this self-taught artist soon gravitated toward the visual art world. The mid-nineties brought time to travel, and Ms Bleasby used the opportunity to settle in England, where she helped open and run two ceramics stores. In 1999, she returned to Canada to study classical animation at the Vancouver Film School, and made an animated movie called Bird.

In search of a creative outlet upon her return to Toronto, Ms Bleasby elected to exhibit some of her artwork in the Distillery District in summer 2002; it sold out quickly. Several months later, a call came from The Hospital for Sick Children that changed the course of her career: the hospital offered her a commission to help make the emergency department more child-friendly.

At the same time, her family life took an unexpected turn. Her mother, Jennifer, was diagnosed with acute myleogeneous leukemia, and Ms Bleasby chose to remain in Toronto to support her mother through the hospital visits and chemotherapy. Her mother, a constant source of inspiration, encouraged her to accept the commission from Sick Kids. “During the time I spent waiting in Princess Margaret, I realized how drab hospitals can be,” she remembers. What started as one mural of an underwater scene entitled, “The Fish Bowl,” in the ER’s small entranceway soon became a true calling.

In addition to her work at Sick Kids, which is funded through private donations, Ms Bleasby earns private commissions by creating pet portraits, painted ceramics and paintings. The galleries featured on her website, http://www.susybee.com offer a first-hand tour through her varied works. Be it in someone’s home or on the walls of Sick Kids, her art provokes delight on the faces of those who view it. “I try to capture the lighter side of life and have fun with my ideas and subjects,” she says. “I’m happy to be doing what I love while bringing joy to the hearts of those in need.”

This article appeared in the READ Fall 2004 (The Branksome Hall Magazine)

Susannah BLEASBY ’91